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superlative vancouver foods?

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i sent this email to chowhound but i guess if it might help the public forum with a discussion i'll put it up here:

heres my situation.
i've been here three weeks and i've got about three more weeks in vancouver.
would like to make the most of it.
i try hard not to sound like a food douchebag, but sometimes i can't
help but be disappointed...i think traveling and living in LA has
spoiled me.

i just recently moved to barclay right next to stanley park (was
living main and 4th for the first three weeks)
(i've been to motomachi shokudo which is pretty good)
i have a car so i can go ANYWHERE

i want to get king crab one time (i know its off season, but might go to come together for 20.00/lb)
spot prawns til season is dead
i'll definitely eat at ajisai more (took me 3 weeks to find a good sushi joint).
any other sushi joints on par with ajisai, and a similar price point?
point of reference:
my old go to spot for sushi in 2003 was sakae sushi, and i dislike tojo's for their heavy sauces,

i might be misguided/misinformed but i find that the main superlative
food in vancouver is chinese food. (so far i've had kalvins szechuan,
suhang, lao shandong, come together, guilin noodle joint on victoria,
and fishermans terrace) all have been good. (want to try peacful
restaurant and probably lao sichuan).
its the only thing ive found that is/on par better than LA.
in general. most asian food is unbeatable in LA due to the immigrant numbers

curious about la quercia (but i'm thinking i might be disappointed
again (and with western/euro food in general), and i'm heading to new
york for half a year in july)
chambar maybe overrated? same with campagnolo? abbatoir? salt?
i liked lumiere when i was out here last in 2003 but that seems history.
vij's i dont remember what i ate back then.

any "only in vancouver/canada" favorite spots or dishes you'd
recommend? historical joints?
i've been to fritz for my first poutine experience. good!
and had smoked salmon from granville. anything else?
superlative examples of foods?
dont really care about trendy, decor, service.

i thought bao bei food was pretty dismal but i was expecting that.
and i found the food at nuba to be borderline inedible,
i am spoiled with excellent lebo/armenian food in LA.

i might head out to an island or okanagan for this long weekend so if
there is a short list of spots out there that would be awesome too.
i know this is asking a lot but i just thought i'd throw it out there.

cheers! and happy to return the favor with LA one of these days..
david

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  1. Hi David.

    Superlative .... tough word to define. Or benchmark against.

    You are absolutely right, Chinese food in Vanc is about as good as it gets in N. America, for variety, quality/authenticity and PRICE.

    Like LA, Vancouver is an immigrants-dominant city. Therefore there will be certain ethnic cuisines we are good/best at, not all, but some.

    To answer your "only in vancouver/canada" favorite spots ?" quest, I might suggest Bishop's. John Bishop pioneered and shaped the culinary scene of Vancouver for the past 25+ years. Many of the city's now famous chefs held tutelage under JB. So if there is an "institution" in Vancouver one might pay homage to, it'd be Bishop's:

    http://www.straight.com/article-38768...

    Pretty much the same said of JB can be said for the other "father" of superlative Vancouver culinary scene, Umberto Menghi. He has more an empire of restaurants:

    http://www.hotelvilladelia.com/restau...

    And honestly I don't know if he's actively chef-ing at any one of his restaurants (doubt it) in the same way that JB still is.

    Interestingly you mentioned possibly going to the island (Vancouver Island ?). If so, I recommend going to Sooke Harbour House, about 1 hour west of Victoria. It's a small resort with a famous resto known for its innovation and locally-sourced (much of it from their own estate) ingredients and supplies. Anthony Bourdain did a piece on Sooke:

    (cue to 3:06):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RpS0t...

    SHH may quality as the defining Vancouver/west coast cuisine that is influenced by all the local flavours and cultures, uniquely interpreted and re-defined. I've only been there once :-(

    2 Replies
    1. re: LotusRapper

      thanks guys,

      i'll probably check out bishops. and try some pacific northwest cuisine!

      1. re: modernist

        re: PNW cuisine -- Another place to try is Willows Inn on Lummi Island. I know it isn't in BC (it is in Washington State), but it is within the Vancouver/BC "diner-shed". I have not yet been, but I hear great things about it from people I trust. Blaine Wetzel (sp?) cooked at celebrated Noma and is purportedly attempting to create a North America version.

    2. Ajisai is a good sushi restaurant for sure, so well done on that. My current favourite is Kimura for the great value omakase.

      As for the superlative in Vancouver, I have to admit I kinda hate trying to answer this question. I'm not sure Vancouver is ready to compete with other food cities the way some would like it to. We're young, still learning, with a relatively small and homogeneous population (certainly compared to LA).

      People rave about the seafood here, but we have so few good seafood restaurants (and they are expensive) that I usually recommend a Cantonese one when asked where to go. I don't think we necessarily even have stellar "Chinese" (so broad!) here but rather some very good Cantonese options, maybe even some worthy Shanghainese. Still no really amazing Sichuan that I've tried, only a handful of Hunan, one really good in my book (Alvin Garden) and lots of holes otherwise.

      I think there are some good Vietnamese restaurants here, and you might want to check out Bishop's on the other end of the scale. I also enjoy the izakayas here, though perhaps you have that in abundance at home. You may be doomed to disappointment but good on you for persevering.

      3 Replies
      1. re: grayelf

        It'd be tough (but not impossible) to compete against LA for Vietnamese food.

        WHY aren't there genuine banh mi food carts in town ? 'Nother no-brainer (ooops, I'm mingling the UBC thread)

        1. re: grayelf

          what is the likely cost of omakase at kimura?
          the a la carte nigiri prices are a touch more than ajisai. but if they have a large selection of imported fish then i'd be willing to try?
          kimura was on my list. he and his partner were both LA chefs.
          i used to go to terried sake house when i was in college.

          suhang was excellent for shanghainese/hanzhou/suzhou cuisine. better than i've had in LA perhaps in a nice setting to boot.

          i hear lao si chuan is good.
          and peaceful restaurant for shanxi food.

          vietnamese probably cant compare with garden/grovewestminster. are there any good nhau joints? (pub food, like vietnamese izakaya)

          1. re: modernist

            I've only had omakase there (five times since January), which starts at $30 (I've done $30, $40 and $50 and enjoyed them all heartily). When uni is on offer it is typically a $10 upcharge. You can ask for a specific dish, or let Kimura-san know of any severe dislikes, but I tend to just let him roll. You get more than enough food so that if you don't love a course you can pass it on to your DC who likely will or just not eat all of it.

            Call ahead (omakase walkin = disappointment!) and be sure to request to sit at the front of the sushi bar (there is a side bar, not as fun). I do believe he has a solid selection of imported fishies but again only had them as part of omakase where he's picking the best for us. This is his "retirement" restaurant and he runs it his way, which I like. Also enjoy the jazz on the hifi ;-).

            I tend to prefer the more rustic Shanghainese places here but so glad to hear you found Suhang excellent. If you get the chance, hit up Ningtu on Kingsway near Victoria for the yellow fish with seaweed. Heaven in deep fried form.

            I don't know Lao Sichuan -- off to Google. I do like Peaceful very much but you have to know what to order. Their menu is mad huge and there are some definite duds on there. Haven't been to the new outpost yet on Davie, just the one near Cambie many times.

            I wonder if you would enjoy Nine Dishes. Their water boiled fish is head and shoulders above any other I've tried in our fair city. The lotus "burgers" and his house-made Sichuan sausage are spot on also. It's kind of a Sichuan/Beijing street food mashup with cheap beer. If you're interested, search this board for other reccs there.

            Vietnamese izakaya, yes please! Don't know of any here but would love to. Probably not worth schlepping for given your embarrassment of riches at home but if you're in the hood (maybe getting that fish dish at Ningtu?) you could stop by Green Lemon Grass for some bot chien. It is really very well executed there.

            -----
            Ningtu Restaurant
            2130 Kingsway, Vancouver, BC V5N2T5, CA

            Green Lemon Grass
            1086 Kingsway, Vancouver, BC V5V, CA

        2. *sigh*

          I pretty much have to agree with your assessment. Can't remember the last time I've had a superlative meal in Vancouver -- and pretty much the "above average" to "excellent" food that can be had here on a regular basis is Chinese -- mainly Cantonese and variations on that theme. Been recently enjoying the DIY noodles trend here, mainly at Cattle Cafe on Alexandria. As far as I know, that hasn't hit LA yet but maybe I'm wrong. (I think LA has a better Taiwanese food scene, by the way.)

          A Vietnamese friend was raving to me yesterday about Hoi An on Victoria and 34th. Said that she went there to eat for 3 days straight, ordering everything on the menu. FWIW. Don't know if it could compete against Vietnamese in LA/OC though.

          Haven't had an excellent western/euro meal in Vancouver -- hm, let's say in 5 years? Last time was at La Buca, maybe 5 years ago? You might try that over La Quercia. I've been to La Quercia but just found it okay. Things may have changed though.

          Chambar, Abbatoir, Campognolo -- merely okay, IMHO. Senior lady ranting here: but people here get caught up in "trendy" and "hip" and that seems to be the focus of most restaurants these days.

          *sigh*

          1 Reply
          1. re: _js_

            We hit up Hoi An for their special dishes and there were very good but agree it might be a stretch to compete with LA. Plus their menu is tiny (which I kind of appreciate) so you could easily get through it in a couple meals. Beware that some of the specials are only available on the weekend. La Buca is my top choice for "Euro" food in Vancouver also, in this case muscular Italian. We go a couple of times a year to dine alla famiglia (it is a bit of a splurge) but I've also had great meals there a la carte. I also prefer it to La Quercia but haven't been to La Q in a couple years (though have tried La Ghianda their offshoot). I've had good to very good meals at Chambar but there is this weird thing there for me where one of the components of the main always strikes me as off/jarring with the others. I solve that by not eating that item, but it is strange. They do a fancy poutine that I like. Campagnolo does some things very well but in my experience suffers from the dreaded inconsistency. A recentish chef change may have fixed that but it's been a while since I've ventured in. Somewhat keen to try their new Roman place on Hastings. Still haven't made it to L'Abbatoir, so many places in Gastown that I still need to get to. It is a nice looking room for sure. I was admiring it on my way to Peckinpah last night for what turned out to be a very fine feast of northeast Carolina style BBQ and topnotch sides. Still in a quasi-meat coma today but that is my fault for eating so much, especially of the brisket.

            -----
            La Buca Restaurant
            4025 MacDonald St, Vancouver, BC V6L2N8, CA

            Campagnolo
            1020 Main St, Vancouver, BC V6A, CA

            La Quercia
            3689 West 4th Avenue, Vancouver, BC V6R1P2, CA

          2. LA has Vancouver beat in pretty much every category. Even the Chinese here as a general category is not as good as LA's. (Cantonese and Shanghainese maaay be a bit better here....but probably not by much.) LA's izakaya scene when taken as a whole is better that Vancouver's - though Vancouver has a much more "walkable" scene.

            I can't pin down any one reason why our food is mediocre - considering the bounty of sources around us. It is probably a combination of things (real estate prices, demographics, taxes, alcohol prices, lack of entrepreneurial spirit, the domination of the so-called "Casual Fine Dining" chains...)

            Anyway you can still eat well here....but I doubt anything will blow you away. This board can definitely steer you away from places that just suck.

            1 Reply
            1. re: fmed

              We get what we deserve? Perhaps the market still is not mature and/or sophisticated enough, their protests and/or boosterism notwithstanding.

            2. ok a more specific question.
              i was thinking of getting a smoked meat bagel at siegels.
              then i heard that Omnitsky's deli had better smoked meat.
              is the best bet to get a bagel at siegels and then smoked meat from Omnitsky's?
              or is it not that great and just wait til i go to montreal one of these days?
              and smoked meat from schwartz's of course

              my gold standard for bagels is ess-a in new york (and smoked salmon from russ and daughters). i've never had a montreal style bagel...

              8 Replies
              1. re: modernist

                Can't help much with the smoked meat question as I haven't tried Omnitsky's (Siegel's didn't excite me but I'm hardly an expert). I will say that I like Siegel's bagels the best of the so-called Montreal style you can get here -- guess you'd have to go to Mtl for the real thing, which is worth doing if my taste memory serves. Since Siegel's doesn't do NY style I suppose a direct comparison is sorta moot :-). Their rock salt and rosemary is a happy thing. Hope you like them either way.

                1. re: grayelf

                  Siegel's is execrable-and that's on a good day.

                  1. re: Sam Salmon

                    Okay, Sam, I'll bite -- where do you get bagels in Vancouver?

                    1. re: grayelf

                      Sad to say I don't-this is a bagel less place.

                      1. re: Sam Salmon

                        I like Solly's bagels.

                      2. re: grayelf

                        I love Mont Royal Bagels. These were a staple when I lived in Victoria and you could get them fresh from the bakery. They've since opened a location in North Van I believe so you can get them at Whole Foods, etc relatively fresh. The cinnamon dip is better than a doughnut IMO.

                        1. re: islandgirl

                          2nd the Mount Royal ones, and yes, WF carries them. They're best when fresh and the poppy seed is my pick. i dislike Siegels and Solly's bagels - too stodgy though I don't mind Solly's in a pinch.

                          When I visit Montreal, I always bring home a couple of dozen St. Viateur bagels. Nothing here substitutes but Mount Royal comes closest. St. Viateur ships too :-)
                          http://www.stviateurbagel.com/main/

                          1. re: kinnickinnik

                            Love love love St. Viateur bagels (and Fairmont ones too!). Next time I go to Montreal I'm going to have to bring an extra suitcase to stuff full of bagels and smoked meat. Do you know how much the shipping cost is to order online?

                            Aside: I typed the address in wrong as "www.stviateurbagelS.com" (with an "s" at the end) and it automatically redirected to Mont Royal bagels. Clever business move on their part!

                2. I don't know about superlative.

                  For Sushi, other than Aji Sai, I'm a fan of Sushi Hachi and Tokyo Thyme. Sushi Hachi has 10 pieces nigiri + one cone/roll for $25. Very good. One of the things I miss most since becoming vegetarian. I've only had the vegetarian items at Tokyo Thyme, but everything is well executed imo. Not out of this world, but a good meal.

                  If you plan on going out to the Island, I would second the recommendation for Sooke Harbour House (the food is not amazing, but it is inventive and a good representation of the pacific northwest). Also in Sooke is the Edge restaurant, which is kind of a diner-ish atmosphere, but the food was very well done. Home-made feel.

                  I also enjoyed a meal at Deerholme farms; They have a dinner once a month (there's one July 9th, see menu @ http://www.deerholme.com/?p=523. Again, I'm not sure if I would classify the food as superlative, but the experience was a great one; one of the better meal/food experiences I've had around Vancouver.

                  1. Great thread! What would you recommend to 2 seafood-loving New Yorkers in town for just 1 day? Need recs for breakfast, lunch, snack/afternoon tea, and dinner on a Saturday. We're quite spoiled as well, being based in Manhattan, and having just returned from a trip to Hong Kong. (Should add that we used to live in Hong Kong and go back regularly, so for Cantonese recs, only crème de la crèmes please.) From all my restaurant research so far, I gathered that we may not necessarily be wowed, but I can't imagine seafood to be anything less than stellar if Vancouver is close to the heart of the best seafood sources in the world? Where can we find the best oysters and freshest sashimi/sushi in Vancouver? How about the best cooked seafood? Non seafood suggestions welcome as well. Our palate leans French, Japanese, and New American. But ready to throw that out the window as well as we're really just looking for the best food Vancouver has to offer. We won't have a car and will likely hang around Kits, Gastown, Yaletown, or South Main.

                    For oysters - Rodney's, Chewies, or Blue Water Cafe?
                    For casual seafood - Lobster Man, Kaboom, or Go Fish?
                    For locally sourced meals - Edible Canada or Kitsilano Daily Kitchen?
                    For sushi - Hitoe, Shizen Ya, or Miku?

                    We'd love to experience as much as we can in 1 day before going up to Whistler!

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: Noodle fanatic

                      I would add Yew to that list for seafood. They recently changed their menu and overall theme to highlight seafood.

                      oysters - I have yet to get myself over to Oyster where they have buck-a-shuck from 3(?)-6(?)pm. Call ahead to find out if and when.

                      local meals - Kits Daily Kitchen would be my choice.

                      downtown sushi - I would say MikO (with an "o") on Robson St. MikU is good if you like more modern stuff and aburi (blowtorch) sushi. (It is a chain from Japan that specializes in blowtorching fish.)

                      1. re: fmed

                        Yew would satisfy both the seafood and local hits. Nice room, airy, relaxed, great bar.
                        Not too far from Kits (its @ 10th & Alma) with a very local focus: Pair Bistro
                        http://www.pairbistro.ca/Home.html
                        Haven't been for a while assuming it's still excellent.

                        1. re: kinnickinnik

                          Would love to hear a comparison between Yew and Blue Water for anyone who has been to both.

                          1. re: Noodle fanatic

                            BW used to be a favourite of mine mainly because of Yoshi Tabo at the sushi bar. (He is now currently toiling at Ki - perhaps the biggest waste of talent in Vancouver today. )

                            Blue Water's non-sushi menu is pretty tame. The dishes will exhibit Asian influences (pretty common here in Vancouver). The have a annually recurring menu called the "Unsung Heroes" where they serve the "unsung heroes" of seafood: periwinkle, jellyfish, white anchovy, octopus, sardine, etc. The stuff is not at all unusual if you regular dine out for sushi and for certain ethnic foods, but for Blue Water's demographic, these offerings are a bit out there.

                            Yew's menu is very similar and has overlaps with Blue Water's. etc. These days, I would recommend Yew over BW. Read Alexandra Gill's thumbs up in the Globe http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/n...

                      2. re: Noodle fanatic

                        I'll ramble on a bit and try to help. I live in Kits and I rarely eat here, sorry to say. Not an oyster fan so haven't been to Chewie's. Lobster Man is a seafood store, though I understand they will steam a crustacean for you to go. The newer Go Fish has been consistently disappointing me, though the setting of the original one is quite lovely, but not so much at this wet and cold time of the year, and the food is just okay. Kaboom Box is as you may realize a street cart with limited hours, also could be a bit soggy at this time of year.

                        Seafood in Vancouver is to me a conundrum -- it's there but you either have to pay big $$ or go Cantonese to get it. I have had a couple of stellar meals at Sea Harbour in the latter category but it can be inconsistent. French in Vancouver is generally not a strength though some swear by Le Crocodile. For your Kits dining one special night, you might consider Bishop's for the "Vancouver" experience. It's been there a long while, the titular chef is still around though not cooking, and some consider it is where locavore dining began for Vancouverites. They do nice things with fish too. Bring money.

                        Lots of options in Gastown but I'd eschew Yaletown. The only restaurant I'd target there is Cioppino's, which is pretty solid but very pricey and I can't help thinking would disappoint a Manhattanite. Others will likely suggest Blue Water but it hasn't impressed me foodwise, is very expensive and has an almost corporate vibe that I find off putting, especially at the price. South Main is a pretty hip zone by local standards and has a few worthies, though they are all fairly low end. I rather like Zipang for more casual, fun and inventive (but not too wierd) sushi and cooked food. Get a reso if you go or prepare to wait.

                        Speaking of sushi, Hitoe would not be a destination for me. It is a step above lunch grade, and the proprietors are very nice, but that's about it. The Broadway Shizen Ya just opened and I don't know anyone who's tried it yet. What drew you to it? Or was it the Hornby one you're talking about? There are two places you might want to try for sushi in Kits: Octopus' Garden and Kibune. Neither are cheap but they are both worthy. Miku has one dish I like, the salmon aburi. Everything else I tried (only one visit) was either average or meh and pricey and the room is achingly trendy and cold. If you're downtown, I'd choose Miko on Robson for the freshness of their fish and the more traditional vibe. Order a la carte off the dinner menu and ask for recommendations -- once they see you're serious, the good stuff comes out and they'll steer you toward the freshest picks. I had some stellar aji there recently that the server pointed out as a much better choice than the saba we had requested. You can sit at the bar and check out the action but be warned the itamae here are a bit taciturn.

                        1. re: grayelf

                          Thanks for the advice! Kibune sounds perfect!

                          The only reason I put Shizen Ya (downtown) on my list was because they seemed to have gotten good reviews and is conveniently located. Although upon further inspection of their menu (not enough variety of fish) it's off our short-list given that we only have 1 day in Van.

                          1. re: Noodle fanatic

                            They are well known for their brown rice sushi. BLECH! is all I have to say to that.

                            1. re: fmed

                              I was going to BLECH too but thought I had already been too grumpy in my post so thanks for the outlet :-).

                              NF, if you go to Kibune it is worthwhile sitting at the bar. Easier to read the specials board, and the itamae there are generally quite forthcoming. I really like their version of uzusukuri (get whatever whitefish they have on offer) and it is now available in a half order if you are watching your budget. I also had an outstanding maguro natto there last Friday that is not on the menu but that may not be your thing :-).

                      3. get some candied salmon. it's glazed in maple syrup.
                        amazing and i'd imagine it's an only in canada typa thing.
                        you can get that at granville island...or whole foods